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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

A Conspiracy of Mockingjays

Well, what did you think?  I liked it.  I liked the fact that it didn’t retread the Hunger Games for a third time and I found the war themes interesting, but it was too internal for my tastes and Katniss became too passive.  And I still think THE HUNGER GAMES is not only the strongest book in the trilogy, but was the best candidate for Newbery recognition.

Since MOCKINGJAY faces the sequel and audience concerns that A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS does, perhaps a comparison and contrast of the two books would be in order.  Which book “stands alone” better?  Which book is less confusing?  Which book is better?  And why?

I’ve had several private e-mail conversations about A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS, but here’s a snippet from the best one.  (It could apply to MOCKINGJAY or any indeed any book in a series.) 

I actually think people are looking at it backward–I think we should not look at a book’s eligibity but a committee member’s. If someone is not willing (or indeed eager) to familiarize themselves with major books in a major series in order to read a new entry, they should not be eligible for the committee.

We expect the people on the Newbery committee to have a high degree of expertise in children’s literature.  I could certainly understand if someone hadn’t read THE QUEEN OF ATTOLIA and THE KING OF ATTOLIA, but certainly people should have read THE THIEF, no?  And if they have also not read THE HUNGER GAMES, do I really want them on the committee, anyway?  Is a person who has not read THE THIEF and/or THE HUNGER GAMES worthy to serve on the Newbery committee? 

It would be interesting to know, from the committees that recognized THE HIGH KING and THE GREY KING, how many members had read previous entries in the series.  I’d bet it’s a pretty high proportion.  Oh, how I wish we could pick their brains. 

Now I’ve had to read books for committees and reviews without benefit of the previous entries, namely DREAMQUAKE by Elizabeth Knox, A DARKLING PLAIN by Philip Reeve, THE SWEET FAR THING by Libba Bray, and INKDEATH by Cornelia Funke.  I have read, evaulated, and appreciated each of these books on their own merits.  DREAMQUAKE was a Printz Honor book; I did go back and read DREAMHUNTER (as my friend suggested), but only after I’d read DREAMQUAKE three times and knew how I felt about it on its own.  A DARKLING PLAIN won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.  I had read the first hundred pages of MORTAL ENGINES years ago before handing it off to a student; I never got it back.  I still need to go back and read the earlier volumes!

The point I am trying to make is that committee members take their charge very seriously (more seriously than the casual reader), and I’d bet that many, if not most, of them are willing to go the extra mile to find something that is truly distinguished.  I certainly hope that’s true of this committee.

Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at


  1. I was under the impression (and it may be an incorrect one) that to win the Newbery the book needed to stand on it’s own. I am sure members of the committee are more than willing to read other books in a series, however if they have to in order to understand the book in question that book should not be the winner. As I said I may have misunderstood this so I would be happy if someone more familiar with the process was willing to clarify!

  2. Jonathan Hunt says:

    JP, we discussed the stand alone issue on the previous thread, Conspiracy of Kings, started a couple of weeks ago. I’m being somewhat churlish here because, really, once the committee has been chosen, you can only expect them to read and discuss the books in the particular year under consideration, and that is as it should be. I’m raising the issue that committee members ought to be well read, thoughtful, intelligent readers familar with children’s literature. It’s the job of the Nominating committee and the President Elect to choose the people with those credentials. It is likely that an ideal committee member would be familar with a large range of children’s books, including those that are part of a series.

  3. Nina Lindsay says:

    Jonathan, I think I’d rather ask not that committee members *should* have read a title, but that they’d be *willing* to. There’s MANY classics out there that I still haven’t read!

    I really think the issue is not the committee members, but the misconception of “standaloness” in the general conception of this award…as evidenced by my earlier post on this. Can we ask that committee members, to give a fair reading and evaluation to a sequel in their given year…be expected to read the previous titles if they haven’t done so yet? I think…yes. I think that the committee members putting forward such titles need to ask it of each other, so that the committee comes to an understanding of how they’re approaching the material. That a sequel is naturally building on character and plot and theme development of previous titles…. So it shouldn’t be expected to provide the whole arc. For the portion of the arc that it DOES present, does it do so in a distinguished manner? And if that evaluation requires back-reading, so be it… it’s just that the material from previous books can’t be used as evidence for the evaluation of this one.

  4. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’m going to stop whining about A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS until I reread it. I read it last year at the same time as you, Nina, and I read it purely for enjoyment, not necessarily with Newbery criteria in mind. I’m looking forward to revisiting the book later this fall now that I’ve read more Newbery contenders.

    On the other hand, I can’t see MOCKINGJAY being recognized, but I’m curious how others responded to the book, both separately and as the culmination of the trilogy.

  5. Nina: “Can we ask that committee members, to give a fair reading and evaluation to a sequel in their given year…be expected to read the previous titles if they haven’t done so yet? I think…yes.”

    But if a book is supposed to “stand alone” (and I know it’s been discussed on here already this year what “stand alone” actually means . . .) wouldn’t you actually value the opinions of the committee members that HAVEN’T read the previous books in a series, just as much, if not MORE? Especially when discussing criteria such as character depth and setting . . . if character groundwork has been laid in previous titles and now in newer titles just assumed, I’m not sure the book should rise above other worthy titles.

    But . . . I have not read it yet so I shouldn’t judge the book quite yet. Only the argument being made.

  6. Basically, if previous books in the series can enhance a new title but are not to be taken into consideration when discussing the new title, how can you “enforce” or “expect” committee members who may not have read those previous titles to read them now?

  7. Jonathan Hunt says:

    How this issue is handled is going to vary from chair to chair, committee to committee, and book to book. In the case of A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS, it was an early spring book, so it may have been suggested by members of the committee since early in the year. It may also have even been a practice discussion book at Annual. In that case, it could have given the committee some valuable, but extremely limited face-to-face discussion time. As the fall nominations come in October, November, and December, CONSPIRACY may pick up enough nominations to be considered a serious contender. If that is the case, committee members will need to seriously grapple how to handle this issue. At some point in the year, the chair may have initiated some online discussion, not on any specific book, but on the general issue of books in a series. If it appears to be a strong contender from the fall nominations then committee members will need to make individual decisions about how to approach the book, whether they want to go back and read some earlier books, or whether they want to head into the final discussions with their impressions of this book alone. Both sets of opinions would be extremely valuable to the committee as a whole, and CONSPIRACY is likely to get multiple readings and fair consideration.

  8. Nina Lindsay says:

    Mr. H, I’m still grappling with the questions you pose. I don’t know that it is enforceable, and Jonathan addresses how the committee might approach it in his recent comment.

    I’m trying to move away from saying that a book has to “stand alone,” because I now am convinced that it doesn’t have to, from the criteria. The *discussion* and *evluation* of the text, however, must focus solely on that text, not in others in the series. But I’d like to see us recognize a serial text for what it is. Just as poetry is recognized as poetry, nonfiction as nonfiction….

    (And I would indeed value highly the opinion of those who hadn’t previously read the titles. I can’t say value “more” because I think committee members should value each other’s opinions equally. But I would be eager to hear from them, certainly. However…I’d also hope that after having read the book on its own, they would THEN go back and read the previous titles, and then reread the title at hand. They’d therefore have multiple and rich perspectives to share. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a book that’s seriously in contention (and I’m not saying that either of these titles are, I’m speaking hypothetically). Committee members often read titles 3 or 4 times before voting. For nonfiction, members may do a little background research, following up on the sources, etc., to evaluate the text at hand. It’s a lot of work! But I’ve never seen professionals take book evaluation so seriously as when they are on the Newbery committee.)

  9. I hear what you both are saying, and for the record I’m all for series books being recognized if they are Newbery worthy. If it’s a great book, it’s a great book, regardless of where it may fall in a series of books.

    I understand what you mean by moving from “stand alone” to something different. But if a committee is supposed to judge this years’ titles solely based on what is within their pages, I don’t know if readings of previous books in series’ should be suggested . . . If anything, I would strongly advise NOT to reread previous books.

    The whole issue is so confusing . . . the criteria should simply state that sequels or series books are not eligible for the Newbery, OR that other books within a series can totally be taken into consideration when discussing particular titles in a given year. Because seriously, how can you NOT discuss CONSPIRACY without having thoughts of THE THIEF? I just don’t like the gray area . . . lay it all out!

  10. There are so many mine fields when it comes to all of this. I love the idea of a serial text, but whether or not a a sufficient number of the committee can be so persuaded is one question. Just as the issue of design — that is, whether and/or how to consider the documentary material in Countdown.

  11. I just read MOCKINGJAY last weekend, and I was seriously impressed! I think I liked it better than THE HUNGER GAMES. (But I don’t think better than A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS.) A big standout for me was I think that is the best love triangle I’ve ever read. The reader has no idea up until the very end who Katniss will pick — and no idea which one she SHOULD pick. You can understand why she loves each of them in a different way, and you believe it.

    Suzanne Collins could have so easily killed one of them off. But instead, she provided a satisfactory resolution that grew out of their characters. That aspect was absolutely brilliant.

    I only read the book last weekend, because I waited for my hold to come in from the library. Normally a book I was that eager to read I would have bought — but this series is so incredibly dark. The horrors it includes! I am glad I read it, and I did love it, but I don’t think I’ll ever want to reread it.

  12. Jonathan Hunt says:

    A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS and MOCKINGJAY (and FORGE, CLEMENTINE, FRIEND OF THE WEEK, and any other series book) are eligible. The chair and the committee should not have a discussion or vote on the eligibility of the titles. Rather, the discussion should focus on each book in terms of its literary elements. In such a discussion, it may come to light that certain elements of the book are lacking, but even then there will not be a consensus about that point, and it is ultimately the voting that will decide the fate of each individual book. Some people who have read all four books will find A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS worthy of a place on their Newbery ballot (top three), others who have read all four books will not feel strongly enough (we’ve already heard from Sondy and Steven that this last one didn’t work quite as well for them). Some people who have not read the book may feel strongly inclined to put it in their top three, and it’s even more likely that they will feel alienated to the point that they cannot put it in their top three. *Any* book faces an uphill battle because each member can only vote for three, but if the sequel issue alienates some readers they are not likely to vote for a particular book at all. If a handful of people on the committee feel strongly about the book, that can be enough of a voting bloc to put the book in contention for some kind of Newbery recognition.

  13. Like Sondy, I liked Mockingjay more than The Hunger Games. It is a pretty good book.

    Conspiracy of Kings is a wonderful book, but I don’t think it’s better than Queen of Attolia or King of Attolia. And if those didn’t even get Honors, then how can Conspiracy hope to?

    I’d better get reading some of the other contenders.

  14. Jonathan: “Some people who have read all four books will find A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS worthy of a place on their Newbery ballot (top three)”

    Are you talking about all four Whalen-Turner books?

    Would they find a place on their Newbery ballot for CONSPIRACY if they HADN’T read the other four books? That’s where this issue is muddied up . . . Because if the answer is NO, then how can A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS be the most distinguished addition to the likes of children’s literature THIS YEAR when you have to read 3 other books from previous years to truly appreciate it? That doesn’t sit well with me . . .

    And I understand that all committees will handle it differently, but I think it could and should be a little more cut and dry than that.

    Although, maybe that’d take the fun debate out of the whole issue!

  15. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Some people on the committee may have read all three of the previous Turner books, others may have read one or two, and some none at all.

    Your question is interesting, but one that is unlikely to be discussed at the table because it involves discussing the prior books in the series. The discussion must focus on why A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS is the most distinguished. Now I gave you a couple examples of award committees that I personally served on where I believed the books (DREAMQUAKE, A DARKLING PLAIN) to be among the most worthy books in spite of the fact that I had not read previous volumes. And there is a precedent in the Newbery canon, as Roger Sutton pointed out on the other thread, that allows for books in a series to win.

    There are many issues that each individual committee has to answer for themselves, and perhaps this is one of them. It would be tidier and neater if it was spelled out more definitively, but there are many points of discussion that the committee never comes to consensus on.

    For example, we might talk until we’re blue in the face, but if we have a fundamental disagreement on whether or not gay mermen are appropriate for children, then no amount of discussion will resolve the issue. There comes a point when more discussion becomes counterproductive, and the chair senses it’s time to move on to the next book or move on to a vote. A vote forces you to consider whether you can build consensus around your problematic titles or not.

    A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS and KEEPER are both currently in my top three, but if most of the committee supported my fourth, fifth, and sixth choices then I have a very difficult decision to make. I may chose to abandon CONSPIRACY not because I agree with the sequel concerns or I may abandon KEEPER not because I agree with the gay concerns, but because we have found books that most of the committee can support. But you can see why, regardless of the outcome, it would be wrong to speak of the Newbery committee as a single entity (i.e. the Newbery committee hated fantasy, the Newbery committee is trying to push its progressive agenda, etc). The differences of opinion on the Newbery committee are likely to be mirrored in society at large.

  16. I’ve reread more than half of A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS while waiting for my flight to go to Boston. (It was delayed six hours so I missed the BGHB awards. I’ll make it to the Colloquium tomorrow, though.)

    Like all of Megan Whalen Turner’s books, I’m enjoying it even more the second time. Her plotting is incredible. Was I disappointed there wasn’t as big a surprise at the end? Well, this time through I’m appreciating how from the very beginning, she’s building Sophos’ character and presenting his choices as to whether to claim his throne. We can feel that it was an actual struggle not to just choose to remain a slave.

    Her characterization is absolutely brilliant. We can really see Sophos’ growth. And that doesn’t depend on the earlier books at all.

    And of course her setting is incredible — seeing as how that whole world is invented, but seems completely believable and feels like she’s writing a historical novel.

    I wonder if committee members will like it better and better the more often they read it, too.

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